Bytica 360°: Guitar Hero: Smash Hits

You could hardly blame anyone for pigeonholing Guitar Hero: Smash Hits as a lame attempt by Activision to cash in on the popular rhythm-game franchise.  48 songs that have already appeared in previous Guitar Hero games? Why should anyone buy that?

A bunch of reasons, as it turns out.

Maybe it’s because there are a lot of songs from the original Guitar Hero, which was only released for the now-archaic PS2. Maybe it’s because this version includes full band support, so you can play drums or vocals and get your friends in the mix.  Maybe it’s because all 48 songs are master tracks, instead of the often-lacking cover versions that appeared before. Or maybe you just want to revisit these songs with all the engine tweaks that have been added to the series over the years (working hammer-ons!). So while Smash Hits doesn’t push the series forward much, it still ends up being a worthy pickup.

Smash Hits pulls its set list from five previous games: Guitar Hero (14 songs), Guitar Hero II (19), Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s (6), Guitar Hero III (8), and Guitar Hero Aerosmith (1). In a nice touch, the entire setlist is unlocked in Quickplay mode from the start, so while there’s a Career mode with the traditional progression, you can just skip to whatever songs you want to play right out of the box. Which is exactly what I did, going straight to master tracks of “Beast and the Harlot” and “Bark at the Moon” before starting career mode.

At first glance, the career appears to be set up similarly to Guitar Hero: Metallica: there are a handful of songs in each tier, unlocking the next one after earning a set number of stars. However, before you unlock the final group of songs, you have to complete every song before it (at least on Expert), so you can’t skip songs if you’re chasing Expert career achievements. Like GH3, World Tour and GH Metallica, the game contains similar animated cutscenes detailing familiar GH characters getting together for a reunion tour.

On guitar, the biggest in-game changes are the little tweaks added to the GH engine over the years. Obviously, functional hammer-ons and hi-def support were the first big additions after the initial Guitar Hero, and then there are later innovations like three-note chords and “slide” notes that support the GHWT guitar’s touch strip. While developer Beenox has maintained the general feel of the original charts, the switch to masters means the charts aren’t quite identical, and so most of the pack feels somewhat fresh: it’s only on the GH3 and Aerosmith tracks that the experience feels like a rehash.

And, since the entire concept behind this feature being “the first 360 minutes,” that’s about as far as I’ve gotten: completing all 48 songs on Expert, with the final Career song predictably being Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames.” (It’s the only song I didn’t 5-star.) Drums and vocals will have to come later this week, as will head-to-head multiplayer or band play, with Xbox Live being down for maintenance today. So while 48 songs might seem a little skimpy considering we’ve played them all before, there’s still tons of gameplay in Smash Hits, which I’m looking forward to digging into further.